IRVINE : Students Hit Wall Over UC Fee Hike

The sign proclaimed it "The Berlin Wall of the UC"--a cardboard, tape and paper edifice erected Wednesday at UC Irvine to symbolize student opinion of a 40% fee increase for all nine University of California campuses.

One by one during their lunch hour, several dozen UCI students took felt pen in hand to give their view of the fee hike, which will add another $650 a year to the cost of attending the university.

"40% = Elitism," wrote one. "Help us, don't hurt us!" pleaded another.

La Shonda Robinson, a 19-year-old sophomore from Louisiana, stepped up to the well-scrawled wall and penned, "Is this a way to keep minorities out?"

It might have been in the form of a question, but the social sciences major was already certain of the answer. She discounted promises of increased financial aid for low-income students made by UC President David P. Gardner when the fee hike was approved.

"We don't have enough minorities on campus now," the African-American student complained as she stepped back from the wall. "Now the fee increase is going to keep more out."

The 40% increase imposed by UC's Board of Regents in February is the largest single jump in the 123-year history of the University of California. It was one in a series of moves to cope with Gov. Pete Wilson's proposal to slash $295 million from UC's budget in the coming fiscal year. Others included tightening entrance standards to reduce enrollment growth, an issue the regents will take up again today when they meet at UCI.

UCI student activists scheduled Wednesday's symbolic protest to generate interest in a rally planned during the regents' lunch break. Rally organizers urged everyone passing the "Berlin Wall" to make themselves heard today.

"A 40% increase in fees and we're canceling baseball and water polo? What's that about?" rally organizer Payam Eshraghian asked through a battery-powered megaphone. He was referring to widespread fears that certain sports would be axed to resolve a projected $415,000 athletics department deficit.

"Be here tomorrow, see the regents face to face," the 20-year-old political science and economics major urged fellow students. "Step up. Make your voices heard. Write something nasty on the wall."

One who obliged was more philosophical: "It will be a great day when education has all the money it needs and the Army has to hold a bake sale to buy bombs."

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